Some interesting facts about Israel’s Desalination Program

I’ve heard interesting tidbits about Isreal’s desalination program over the years, but never realized how big it was, or how successful it was until recently when I came across this article which started with this impressive line:

“After experiencing its driest winter on record, Israel is responding as never before — by doing nothing.”

India and Isreal have vastly different geographies but I was still curious to see if there were any lessons for India from this program specially since California has tied up with an Israeli company to build a desalination plant which will be operational in 2016 and provide 50 million gallons of potable water in a day.

Fundamentally, water desalination is the process of taking sea water and purifying it to make it potable. One method to do this and used by Israeli companies is called “Seawater Reverse Osmosis“. In this process, seawater is run through pre-filtration pipes to clean it prior to running it through another filtration process that removes all of the salt.  About half the water becomes potable, but the remaining half retains higher concentration of salts and minerals, and that is then returned to the sea.

This is an expensive process, and it is estimated that desalinized water costs $0.65 per cubic meter while water from fresh water sources costs about $0.15 per cubic meter.  This process also requires electricity of course, and the usual sources of generating electricity are hydro, coal or natural gas.

Then there is the impact to the environment, although I couldn’t find any reports that conclusively said the effects were bad for the environment, it probably hasn’t been that long since this process has been in use to provide any conclusive evidence one way or another.

Interestingly enough, desalination is not only done to sea water but also to brackish water, which is the kind of water that’s more saline than fresh water, but less so than regular sea water, which immediately reminded me of how water used to be in Noida several years ago. This kind of water is usually found in estuaries where sea water and fresh water meets.  Israel has got several smaller plants that treat  brackish water in addition to its larger plants that treat seawater.

While desalination is the attention grabbing action, there are other things that they have done which are less glamorous but also quite effective. They have what is called the “National Water Carrier of Israel” which is a system of canals, pipes and reservoirs that transfers fresh water from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the central and southern regions of the country.

They also have a highly efficient system of recycling water, and using treated sewage water for irrigation purposes which is done very efficiently there, and in 2009 the UN named Israel the world leader in water recycling. 

Going through all this information about Israel’s program shows you how effective their multi-pronged effort has been and they have not only made progress in sea-water desalination which grabs headlines but other relatively cheaper alternatives too like treating brackish water or building a network of canals which might be easier for other countries to follow at first.

12 thoughts on “Some interesting facts about Israel’s Desalination Program”

  1. Saudi Arabia is using desalination process in a big way through its company Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) to meets 15% of the drinking water requirement. A lot of Indians are working there.

  2. Saudi Arabia is using desalination in a big way to meet 50% of its potable eater requirement. It has separate company by the name of Saline Water Conversion Corporation. A lots of Indians are working there.

  3. Hi
    Suprised you did not mention the desalination projects in TN – 2 of them active. Also there are serious ecological impacts due to this process one example is Dead Sea.

    1. Because I wasn’t aware of it – are there any links you can share Harinee? I’d like to read about it. I didn’t find anything about the Dead Sea being affected by this…maybe a link on that too – thanks!

    2. I think the harinee is mistaken. Israel desalinates water from the mediterranean. Because of this, less water from the jordan is pumped, so the dead sea situation is actually improving.

  4. Some interesting facts about Israel’s _any_ Program – You can replace ‘Desalination’ with many more amazing stuff this little nation does. Weapons, Spying, Entrepreneurship, Nukes, Wars, Higher Education etc.

    No wonder, Modi is obsessed with Israel.
    Anyway, thanks for sharing. Adding to that, I read today that India is seeking Israel’s expertise in treating Ganga. We can gain a lot from being a partner with Israel, just we have to little careful so as not to antagonise Arab nations.

  5. Singapore too has invested in such technologies. I think 10% of their water comes from desalination and they are on the path to get to 25%. Also, a large fraction of their water is recycled/reclaimed. They call it NEWater:
    40% of their water is imported from Malaysia. I guess this is easier done in the context of a city-state vs a country, although the populations are similar: 8 million in Israel vs 5 million in Singapore.

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